Karen Horney may have started as an admirer of the great Sigmund Freud, but the accomplished scholar and early 20th century psychoanalyst repudiated the “father of psychoanalysis” after he published his controversial essay on penis envy that basically framed the personality development of young girls in terms of men, writes Stephanie Buck. Horney’s criticism did not go unpunished, however, with some of the backlash getting very personal.
Horney dismissed Freud’s ‘penis envy,’ and retaliated with her own theory of ‘womb envy,’ and “feminists love her for it,” Buck says.
While Horney studied under one of Freud’s star pupils, Karl Abraham, and was first taken with Freud’s groundbreaking theories, she confronted Freud about his psychosexual development theory, in which he defined the stages of childhood in terms of libido and posited that girls are naturally griped with penis envy and therefore compelled to spend the rest of their days competing for men’s attention to get over their lack of one.
“When one begins, as I did, to analyze men after a fairly long experience of analyzing women, one receives a most surprising impression of the intensity of this envy of pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood, as well as of breasts and of the act of suckling,” Horney wrote.
In a series of lectures, Horney blasted his “assertion that one half of the human race is discontented with the sex assigned to it and can overcome this discontent only in favorable circumstances,” calling it “decidedly unsatisfying.” Then, she went on to say a whole lot more about men’s obvious “womb envy.”